Monday, January 13, 2014

Song #469 of 9999 - Snagglepuss by Naked City

Song #469 of 9999

Title: Snagglepuss
Artist: Naked City
Year: 1989
Album: Naked City

Avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn has always worn his influences on his sleeves (he needs both—there are a lot of them). Designed to "test the limits of the rock band format," the collaborative effort that would become Naked City features nods to Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, Ornette Coleman, James Bond, film noir, 50s rock and roll, punk rock, Japanese punk rock, grindcore, country and western, New Orleans jazz, bebop, noise and more. 

But perhaps most of all it is the influence of Carl Stalling, the famed Warner Bros. cartoon composer, that is responsible for some of the more unique tracks on the record. After hearing Stalling's cut-and-paste style featured in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies of the 1940s and 50s, Zorn developed a file card system of composing, whereby he would notate short ideas on index cards and then arrange them randomly or in an order of his liking. The cards are not related by style, key, meter or any other traditional musical means and there are no transitions between the ideas. 

As demonstrated in "Snagglepuss," the results can be jarring at times but never less than exhilarating. Zorn acknowledged the often violent nature of these compositions by featuring a gruesome photo by crime photographer Weegee on the cover of Naked City along with grotesque illustrations by Japanese artist Suehiro Maruo in the liner notes. (Zorn maintains apartments in New York City and Tokyo, two cities which continually inform his work.)

Naked City is an exhausting record. I reviewed nearly all of it searching for the right track for this post. It was hard work just listening to it so I can only imagine the sessions that produced this groundbreaking album. This is music that can only succeed in a face-to-face setting with tremendous levels of mutual understanding and communication. To quote Zorn on this type of collaboration, "At the end of the day, I want players to say: this was fun - it was a lot of fucking work, and it's one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was worth the effort."

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